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Maine moves closer to banning single-use plastic shopping bags

Bill Trotter | BDN
Bill Trotter | BDN
A plastic shopping bag sits stuck in a thorny bush by the side of Route 1 in Ellsworth on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, as a car drives past.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A statewide ban on single-use plastic shopping bags negotiated by environmentalists and grocers cleared the Maine House of Representatives on Thursday in an initial step toward likely passage in the Democratic-led Legislature.

The amended bill from Rep. Holly Stover, D-Boothbay, passed 91-52 in a party-line vote on Thursday, with all Republicans present voting against it. The bill faces further action in both chambers and is expected to pass with support from the administration of Gov. Janet Mills.

It would make Maine the fourth state to ban plastic shopping bags effective in 2020 after California, New York and Hawaii and would override local ordinances in more than 20 Maine cities and towns that either ban plastic bags or charge a fee to people who take bags.

That patchwork of local laws and the Democratic legislative majorities created the environment for the compromise bill, which was negotiated by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Retail Association of Maine and the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association.

In floor speeches, Democrats touted the municipal actions and said a statewide ban would send an important message to future generations. In a floor speech, Stover referred to reports saying that 60 percent to 80 percent of ocean pollution can be traced to discarded plastic.

“We have a climate change crisis on our hands and Maine needs to be a leader,” Stover said.

Republicans objected to the bill, saying it could harm Maine businesses and stating opposition to sweeping mandates and a concern that the proposal would be more symbolic than impactful.

“Plastic doesn’t get to the side of the road on its own,” said Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade. “How is this bill going to address how it gets there?”

The bill would prohibit single-use plastic bags by April 2020. After that, retailers would have to charge at least 5 cents for recycled paper bags or reusable plastic bags, though small stores and restaurants will be exempted. Earlier this month, Mills signed a bill to make Maine the first state to ban single-use foam food and beverage containers.

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